J A N U A R Y 26, 2014
Admittedly, I have been indifferent to works by the French artist Marie Laurencin. I rarely paused by them at museums or exhibitions. In my opinion, they definitely lost out to works by Picasso, Braque and other great artists. In general, their association with the latter looked somewhat strange. Laurencin seemed “to be in that company” only due to her tempestuous affair with Guillaume Apollinaire, a remarkable French poet and art critic who was the first to cultivate public taste for Cubism and who was friends with many progressive artists of that period.
Many reasons may change one’s attitude to an artist’s work one way or the other. A fortunate display showing the artist at his/her best, or conversely, an ill-conceived and overloaded exposition; an insightful expert analysis from an unexpected angle; scathing criticism in a serious art publication; a quality catalogue with an impressive choice of works are but a few of a host of diverse reasons. In my case it all happened owing to but one work of Marie Laurencin. When replenishing my collection of West European graphic works a short while ago, I rather unexpectedly purchased a small pencil drawing of A Portrait of a Girl with a Braid (1910s) by Marie Laurencin. That drawing surprised me as atypical and as a result triggered interest in the artist’s work and personality: great poets rarely have a mouse for a Muse. Marie’s life story mirrored practically all the momentous events of the twentieth century while the vagaries of her creative biography, her coterie of friends and intertwining destinies indeed surpassed all expectations, of which you’ll soon be convinced.
Pablo Picasso introduced Laurencin to Apollinaire in 1907. He had met her at the gallery of the art dealer Clovis Sagot and immediately saw that she would be a perfect match to his poet friend. “I’ve found a bride for you,” he told Apollinaire. The latter encouraged Marie in her artistic aspirations, saying “First I’ll make an artist of you. And then I’ll make a really good artist of you.” He always insisted on Marie’s contributing to group shows of the Cubists, who obviously influenced her work. “Delicate Cubism” was how Picasso defined her style. Not a single review of the Salon d’Automne exhibitions written by Apollinaire ever bypassed Marie Laurencin. Exhibited next to the works of Picasso, Braque and Gris, Laurencin’s works were indeed found by the public more palatable and an oasis for the soul.
Yet, it was not only thanks to her relations with Apollinaire that Marie was in with the Bohemian world of Paris. Her colleagues appreciated her artistic talent: in 1909 Picasso bought her canvas La Songeuse (The Dreamer) that remained in his collection till the very end and is now on show at the Picasso Museum of Paris. Jacques Doucet, a well-known French couturier and collector, purchased La Pianiste.
Laurencin’s early works (of the “pre-elfic” period), although undoubtedly reflecting the influence of more mature contemporary artists, were nevertheless characterized by originality and delicacy. As soon as she found a style of her own and her pastel palette, her works became absolutely recognizable and inimitable.
My personal discovery of Marie Laurencin happened to coincide with her 130th birth anniversary and her first retrospective in Paris. To mark her centenary, Tokyo opened the Museum Marie Laurencin, which keeps more than 500 of her works, including paintings, watercolors, sketches, prints, book illustrations, verse and letters. Japan thinks highly of her art which indeed shares an affinity with Japanese prints. This recognition dates back to 1916, when Laurencin as the wife of a German subject was in exile in Spain. There she met the Japanese poet Daigaku Horiguchi, son of a diplomat, who upon his return to Japan stayed in touch with her and did a great deal to acquaint his compatriots with her art.
Laurencin’s inner strength and energy, coupled with her peculiar gift, attracted sundry people. Her eventful and fascinating life made her a brilliant representative of her epoch while her huge and unique legacy ensured her a special place in the history of world art.